It’s Friday, which means it’s Fury time again. Mr Grace and I are just back from a wonderful holiday in glorious Cumbria with lots of walking and lots of relaxing in the local pubs, as well as a special treat of a few extra days with friends. Now amid the laundry and the catching up, I want to make sure your next episode of Fury is happily waiting for you right on time … thought this episode is certainly not happy as Captain Harker and the crew of the Dubrovnik make a decision from which there is no turning back. If you’re enjoying Fury, please spread the word and pass the link to a friend. I love to share my stories with as many people as possible. I’m offering a new episode of Fury every Friday. PS: No pics of the stars this time, but a few holiday photos from our wonderful walk to Nine Standards Rigg, a part of the Wainwright Coast to Coast path and the Pennine Way.
“Win the bet and Fury’s yours. Lose the bet and your ass is mine.” It seemed like a no-brainer — Rick Manning’s slightly inebriated offer. If he’d been sober, he’d have remembered indentured pilot, Diana “Mac” McAllister never lost a bet. All her life she’s dreamed of buying back her freedom and owning her own starship, and when Fury’s ne’er-do-well, irritating as hell captain all but hands Fury to her on a silver platter she figures she can’t lose. She figured wrong. That’s how the best pilot in the galaxy finds herself the indentured 1st mate of a crew that, thanks to her, has doubled in size. Too late, she finds out Fury is way more than a cargo ship. Fury is a ship with a history – a dangerous history, and one that Mac’s been a part of for a lot longer than she thinks. And Rick Manning is not above cheating at poker to get her right at the center of it all, exactly where he needs her to be.
Piloting Fury Part 48: No Turning Back
It had been Harker’s experience that when an operation was going too smoothly, it usually meant all he had to do was wait for it, and the shit would hit the fan. This was not the time when he needed the unexpected. This was the time when he needed everything to go exactly as planned. Flissy and her two assistants had been very careful with the vaccinations to make sure Fallon’s spies were equally interspersed with the rest of the crew so not to draw any attention. Six other trusted crew members worked in the sub-basement getting Fallon’s groggy loyalists safely and quietly into the cryo-pods.
The real worry was that Lebedny was not yet among the crew reporting for vaccinations. Twice he’d delayed saying he’d come as soon as he finished what he was doing. When it happened the third time, Harker dispatched a security team to escort him down. That was half an hour ago. He was just about to com up and see what the delay was when the cargo bay door slid open and Lebedny stepped in flanked by two of the other men, both working security, who had come onboard with Fallon’s snitches. He smiled benignly enough, but there was nothing benign about the three of them together. Lebedny was a big man, muscled and fit, and the two who flanked him were bigger still. Harker had done his homework and he knew that Lebdny had come up through the ranks through Authority special forces. His job, before he had come onboard the Dubrovnik, had been organizing security details for Fallon and Fire Star Conglomerate’s more sensitive, more ‘at risk’ cargo.
“They’re the last three,” came Ivan’s voice inside Harker’s ear piece, “and I think the jig is up.”
When Harker motioned him to the bay where Flissy waited, he offered a lazy smile. “There’s no radiation leak, Harker. Did you think I wouldn’t check? I don’t know where you’re holding my people, but I suggest you release them now, and we can forget any of this ever happened.” Then he tapped the button on his chest and opened a ship-wide com. “Attention all personnel, Captain Harker is attempting to hijack an Orca class ship belonging to Star Fire conglomerate. Any members of the Dubrovnik’s crew are who are found to be aiding Harker or his co-conspirators will be punished to the full extent of Authority law.”
Harker had just stepped out of the sub basement after checking the cryo-pods, all but three of those prepped were full. He gave his earpiece two quick taps, the signal between him and Ivan and Flissy as well as several other key players, that there was trouble. Then he spoke quietly to the crew assisting with the pods, who were securing the last three patients. “Finish up and get out of there.” Keeping one eye on Lebedny and his accomplices, he tapped into his com officer. “Hansu, play it.” Immediately the message from the from the Svalbard began to play over the com system. Once it was finished and he was sure the other members of the crew were clear of the pod room in the sub-basement, he began the depressurization sequence. “That was the last message from the Svalbard before Abriad Fallon destroyed her and her crew.” He spoke into the open com. “You know where the escape pods are if you have no stomach for what’s about to happen.” He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have to. Fallon had underestimated the crew’s loyalty and the discontent at having a third of their compliment replaced with Fallon’s ass-kissers who were far less competent then the members they had replaced and nothing more than glorified snitches. Add to that, like Harker, they were tired of living with the threat of a shackle hanging over their heads and the heads of their families.
Ivan moved to flank Harker, and Ledbedny assessed the situation with an experienced eye. “Jacobs and Schmidt are dead, Harker,” he said, keeping his voice even, trying to make the threat seem less than it was. “You should have known better than to send them against me. They were just freighter security. Their training wasn’t up to the task. It’s a pity really. They were good men. They didn’t have to die. There deaths are on your head. The rest of you,” he raised his voice to be heard above the Svalbard’s last transmission now being played on a loop. “The choice is yours to make. But be warned, it won’t go easy for you if you choose wrongly. The Authority doesn’t look kindly on industrial espionage and hijacking of an orca class ship. The best you can hope for is a shackle for you and your families and a life sentence in the mines.”
He turned his attention back to Harker. “Captain, I’m going to ask you one more time to release my people.”
“I can’t release your people, Ledbedny. They’re in cryo-stasis, and nice and ready for a long trip.” Just then the alarm began to sound for the decompression of the chamber and Ledbedny went wild. He dove for the door and hit the lock mechanism with his fist just before it would secure the sequence, the door slid open with the computer’s voice mindlessly repeating a warning of imminent decompression. His two cohorts each grabbed Harker by a shoulder and Ivan grabbed for Lebedny. His momentum forced them both through the door, which slid shut automatically behind them and the locking sequence commenced again. But when Harker tried to pull away from Lebedny’s men, they held him so that he couldn’t key in the abort. He could only struggle and watch helplessly as Ivan and Lebedny battled inside the decompressing cryo-chamber, all the while the final message from the Svalbard played mindlessly over the intercom. “When that chamber hatch blows, Lebedny goes right out the door with no cryo-tube, now let go of me.” The fact that they didn’t budge made him wonder if they were more afraid of Lebedny than they were of him.
“Don’t worry, boys,” came Flissy’s rough contralto voice from behind. “I’ve still got space for you.”
In unison the two men gave a soft grunt of surprise and stumbled backward into the waiting arms of Flissy and her assist, Keller, and Harker sprung forward to key in the code that would reverse the decompression sequence. But it was too late. All he could do, all any of them could do was watch in horror as the hatch opened, the clamps on the occupied cryo-tubes released and the tubes, along with Lebedny and Ivan, still locked in heated battle were sucked outward into the void.
There were no tears shed. No one had time for tears. Ivan’s loss was a heavy blow for the Dubrovnik crew. He’d signed on as an ensign when Harker became captain. They had worked well together, and he would be missed. Only Harker knew that he his family had pooled their last resources to send him away so that he would escape the shackle of his family’s debt. They had risked further debt to buy him a new identity and a new life. Harker had kept his secret, and he had been loyal to the end. Ivan’s death was a sacrifice that Harker knew he saw as his duty, and yet that made the loss no less bitter. Ivan and Flissy were two of the few people onboard that Harker had come to consider friends and equals – them and Diana McAllister, for whom he’d had to keep his respect and admiration hidden.
The crew was all gathered on the observation deck, at his request. Flissy flanked him and so did Science Officer Hal Rehnquist. Harker looked out over the faces he had become familiar with over the years. Few ever left the service of the Dubrovnik on purpose. It was a good ship and a good place to serve. He looked out on determined faces, squared tense shoulders and all eyes were on him.
“We will mourn the los of our comrade Jelik Ivan, make no mistake, that time will come, and we will drink to his memory and to the example he represented aboard this good ship. We will mourn the loss of the Svalbard, her fine crew and captain and the good work they did. We will mourn so many losses, more than we can count. I promise you that time will come.
“Today, though, we have a chance to make a difference. But know this, all of you who stand before me, the price will be a high one. We’ve hijacked a conglomerate orca class flagship. We’ve tossed a third of the crew overboard, and we’ve disobeyed every direct order and every rule we’ve lived by all these years together.” He stepped forward to the com and played the last message of the Svalbard once more. And when it was done, when the silence was as complete as death, he spoke again. “If any of you wish to leave, now is your chance. After this there’ll be no turning back. If you choose to go, you’ll be set aboard an escape pod with coordinates that will take you far from the action, but land you safe in an Authority stronghold, where you need tell nothing but the truth, and no harm will come to you. No one here will hold it against you.”
When no one budged, he heaved a sigh and offered a tight, but earnest smile. “Your loyalty moves me deeply, that you stand by me knowing that I may very well be leading you to your deaths or worse. But this is where we draw the line. This is where we take our stand. Pandora Base can’t stand against the Apocalypse. It is unarmed, and until now, undetected. The shields will only hold for a short time. There are five hundred souls on Plague 1, and the research that has resulted in a cure for the SNT virus in any stage. There are secrets there that we cannot allow to fall into the Authority’s hands. Most especially we can’t let them fall into Fallon’s hands. There’s space aboard the Dubrovnik for the people and the equipment. Once the base is evacuated and everyone is onboard, with a quick stop on Grania 5, we can take on supplies enough to get us to the Rim. Once we’re there, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, there’ll be no coming back, so I will offer you one last chance to opt out.” Still no one moved. He looked out once again over the faces of his trusted crew and nodded. “Well then, buckle in. We’re already on course for Plague 1 and we’re about to jump to maximum speed. We’re way closer than the Apocalypse is, since the destruction of the Svalbard happened here.” He pointed to a place on the star map. With any luck, we can be there, have the base evacuated, and have jumped a couple of times before the Apocalypse arrives. Good luck. Good luck to all of us and all of those at Pandora Base.”